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Photo Credit: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Flames coach Darryl Sutter on prospects: ‘big difference’ between NHL and AHL

It’s no big secret that the Calgary Flames haven’t gotten a ton of secondary scoring. Sure, their top offensive players have been top offensive players, but the gentlemen on their bottom two forward lines haven’t done a ton of scoring.

After Tuesday’s practice, Postmedia’ Kristen Anderson asked Flames bench boss Darryl Sutter his perspective on bringing the top-scorers from the American Hockey League’s Stockton Heat – such as Jakob Pelletier – to bring in secondary scoring.

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The short answer is Sutter doesn’t seem keen on it because he thinks young players should be developing and experiencing success in the AHL.

Here’s him elaborating on that point:

I think it’s really important as an organization that we do a thorough job of [development]. You don’t just call guys up and then not let them have success. You want them to have one or two years of success for sure. It’s a big jump. You’re looking at Jakob, right, and saying well he’s up there in scoring? Well there’s a big difference between the American Hockey League and the NHL. Especially if you’re a first-year pro and you’re undersized. Jakob Pelletier is an awesome, awesome kid. He’s got a great mindset for the game and energy for the game, but it’s quite a bit different. If you’re not an elite, elite scorer at this level, such as somebody like Johnny, and you’re playing against guys that are 40 to 50 pounds bigger than you, you’re going to have trouble. You’ve just got to mature and develop, and that’s for sure what Pelletier will do.

Anderson asked about the danger in rushing players up to the NHL:

Losing confidence. Losing basically the experience of having success. You lose years… Look at the two boys here that, for example, a guy like Mange. There’s a lot of similarities, to be quite honest, when you talk about that. Mange and the success that he had, and the success he’s having. It’s because of the maturity and the experience. And then you look at somebody like Dillon, who had some good success and then at times everybody, they said ‘well the coach didn’t like Dillon’ or whatever last year. But that’s really not true. It’s just experience, the maturity that the player needs.

Usually you are best served, I know from my own experience, I was best served playing in the American Hockey League and becoming a really good player there before going to the NHL. When you look at it everywhere, there’s very few players that step in. And those are elite players that step in as underages or 19 or 20 year olds. or 21-year-olds for that matter. And even with defensemen it’s even longer. We can talk about that, too. You look at a guy like Val, right? It’s got nothing to do other than experience. he was probably here too early. it’s better you play lots, have confidence, feel good and build your game.

For reference, Johnny Gaudreau signed with the Flames at the end of his junior year at Boston College in 2013-14. At that point, he had won an NCAA Championship, a World Junior gold medal, a Hobey Baker Award (after being runner-up the year prior), and countless honours for being a tremendous college scorer. And even then, he definitely struggled in his first few NHL games in the following season, before a light went off when he was healthy scratched and he became a consistent point-per-game NHL scorer.

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As a 20-year-old, Andrew Mangiapane never hit the NHL. He had 41 points in 66 AHL games (0.621 points-per-game) that season and spent chunks of the following two seasons in the AHL before becoming a full-time NHLer as a 23-year-old. 20-year-old Dillon Dube had 37 points in 31 AHL games (1.194 points-per-game) and made the jump to full-time NHL duty as a 22-year-old. Neither has become an elite offensive player in the NHL, though Mangiapane has become extremely good.

Pelletier has 31 points in 29 games so far in his 20-year-old season, for a 1.069 points-per-game pace. He’s currently second in the AHL in points. He wasn’t a Gaudreau-level scorer in junior in Quebec, though he was one of the best 200-foot players in the QMJHL during his time there.

The Flames are back in action on Thursday when they host the Ottawa Senators.

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